Manchester City's Money Has Cost Them Their Identity And Sense Of Humour

Few teams have changed so much both on and off the field in recent years as Manchester City. But has City's new-found wealth and status come at the expense of their identity?
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Few teams have changed so much both on and off the field in recent years as Manchester City. But has City's new-found wealth and status come at the expense of their identity?

Manchester City, a club with a proud patrimony but a dismal recent history is amongst the pillars of British footballing history. Providing many wonderful players such as Colin Bell and Francis Lee, the glory days of the 1970s City is a key part of English football lore. Much to the disappointment of City fans this rich past has been mixed in with an extended run in the footballing wilderness. The club has suffered relegations and heartbreak as their all conquering neighbours continued to ruthlessly expand their own trophy collection. Constant exposure to disappointment has not brought the melodramatic self pity that is found in the North East. Instead City fans have nurtured a wonderfully dark sense of humour which is unrivalled in football.

For example take the end of the 2009-2010 season, City's first season as the richest club in the world. The club was battling Spurs, another club trying to live up to former glories, for 4th spot and the chance to play in the Champions League. As fate would have it the teams were drawn to play each other at the end of the season with the victor taking the UEFA spoils. Spurs won of course, postponing the City dream for another season. While the travelling fans celebrated, someone in the stadium put on' the chroniclers of Mancunian angst, The Smiths and their song 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now'.

This was sardonic, clever and a great example of fan culture untouched by the all homogenising Premier League. However with the Abu Dhabi money Manchester City's link to this personality is getting all the more tenuous. They defeated the perennially overachieving neighbours in a FA Cup semi final whilst securing Champions League football with some ease this time around. If City are to be successful then how will this effect their reputation a 'Typical City'?

Roberto Mancini has brought the team some initial success, with the first trophy in 35 years but he has failed to impose an attractive footballing identity on the team.

Before City became flush with cash, their youth system was successful and admired in recent years. Producing talents like Micah Richards, Steven Ireland, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Daniel Sturridge. All these players have received full international caps whilst Sturridge has just returned from England U-21 duty. All in the academy has produced 35 first team players with 13 of them representing their countries at senior level. Talents like Richards have brought the club success on the pitch whilst Wright-Phillips' sale to Chelsea in 2005 brought in £21 million for the club.

An academy is more than just numbers, the ability of City to nurture and bring through talent gives the club a direct link to the fans in a way that the permanently want-away Carlos Tevez can't. Seeing Micah Richards play for England and win the FA Cup has to mean more to City fans than any of the expensive imports. However the influx of these players has seen almost all of the academy talents marginalised. Steven Ireland has been sold and seems destined to wander through the Premier League in search of a club who can get the best out of his talents. SWP is now on the margins of the squad and a move now looks inevitable if he wants to actually play football. Sturridge, went to Chelsea after a row with Mark Hughes over wages. However even if he had stayed, he would've faced intense competition for a first team place. It's a real shame that many of the recent academy graduates won't get a chance to play a meaningful role in City's future which only a few years before looked like it belonged to them.

Many clubs, Barcelona most obviously define their identity by a playing style. Barcelona's flexibility and poise on the pitch is juxtaposed by a ridge and doctrinaire adherence to their playing style. Roberto Mancini has brought the team some initial success, with the first trophy in 35 years but he has failed to impose an attractive footballing identity on the team. City have stuck with a troika of holding midfielders throughout the season. Even at home and against weaker teams Mancini has always tactically held back.

They have to decide what kind of champions they want to be. Will they fail the Clough Test and win at the expense of entertaining, attractive football as Chelsea have sometimes done.

What makes this so frustrating for the neutral is the wealth of attacking talent City have assembled. From the fast and skilful Adam Johnson to David Silva who has rapidly grown into many a neutrals favourite with his slick passing game which at times makes City play excellent football. City's overly cautious approach has been tactically superfluous against many teams who seem to be in great awe of City's attacking potential than their manager. This reticence has cost them this year with winnable home games against Birmingham, Fulham and Blackburn all ending in draws.

These additional six points would have put them clear of Chelsea and would have announced Manchester City's arrival as a new power in English football. This unwillingness of Mancini to let go and let his players play with a little more style and panache has made them difficult to for a neutral to truly admire. Manchester Utd and Arsenal have wedded success to an adherence to attacking football which even their fiercest critics admire. City need an identity something beyond simply being the richest team in club football. Gaining a reputation as great entertainers, is something that would smooth over the calls that they've merely bought success. However it seems hard to imagine that Mancini will emulate Cruyff at Barcelona and impose a legacy of attacking football which will redefine the identity of the team.

Very few football teams manage to escape Machiavelli's query 'is it better to be feared or loved if you cannot be both'? This Barcelona team has arguably achieved this. They tear opposition teams apart and are applauded for their efforts. City's relationship with neutrals has been permanently altered by the new money. They have to decide what kind of champions they want to be. Will they fail the Clough Test and win at the expense of entertaining, attractive football as Chelsea have sometimes done. Or will they create a new footballing identity in place of their slightly calamitous one? As a neutral we can only hope that City decide that being worthy champions is a goal worth achieving.

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